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When my colleague Matt told me of Google’s ‘salary and bonus’ plan to reduce its brain drain, I responded: ‘It’s not April Fools day Matt – Ha Ha’
Astoundingly, Matt wasn’t kidding me. Instantly I wondered how Google, the ‘hero’ of employee engagement and employee branding, could be so short sighted.
Google is famous for winning employee awards, not just in Australia but also around the globe. Only last week Google Australia was named the most sought after employer in our Dream Employers survey.
Why on earth would Google implement such a unilateral cash benefit program – it just does not make commercial sense. (Are we all paying too much for our Google Adwords?)
RedBalloon works with hundreds of organisations designing and implementing engaging and exciting programs that make people feel truly special and proud of their employer – this is what drives loyalty – long term.
About four years ago I was speaking with the HR manager of a large publicly listed company with 15,000 employees.  Management decided to ‘celebrate’ a certain business result by giving each employee a $1000 bonus.
The HR manager told me it was the single worst HR decision they had ever made. He said people were upset and became un-motivated. Those who were highly paid never noticed it in their bank accounts – especially after tax; those who were part of a workplace agreement had shop stewards arrive demanding next year’s productivity bonus. But the worst, he told me, was the complaints, nay bitchiness that occurred, such as:  ‘she was on maternity leave she wasn’t even here for most of the year, why should she get the same amount?’
This HR manager admitted there was so much backstabbing and unrest over the bonus, they fundamentally damaged their culture and it has taken years to recover.
I feel like asking this HR director to call Google to let them know what happened. A well-intentioned $15million spend, instead of motivating people became a disaster for employee culture and motivation.  What was meant as a gift had the opposite effect.
Cash is never a gift. Look at the research documented by Daniel Pink in his book Drive he specifically outlines the short term ‘high’ of cash Keeping people engaged is not about their pay packet – if you pay people fairly of much greater importance is their autonomy, mastery (what they learn) and also their sense of purpose.
In speaking to HR leaders, they are aghast at Google’s decision.  Why not give 20% to the top performers and zero to those who aren’t?
It makes me wonder, how involved were the HR leaders at Google in this decision?
Of course people will want to work for Google, they have no shortage of applicants as we discovered in our Dream Employer survey. Around ten percent of Australians and New Zealanders dream of working for them, although at the current job vacancy rate, it is going to take about 11,000 years for them all to get a job there!
Loyalty is never about the money. I recommend Google’s CEO – Eric Schmidt – invest in a consistent recognition program and develop his leaders to acknowledge people. Notice people, love them, value their contribution and make them hero – make their dreams come true and they will be with you for the long term and give you their valuable discretionary effort.

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